As many of you know, I have been teaching through Job with my high school Sunday School class. They’ve been having a blast, and to be honest so have I. This coming Sunday we’ll be covering Job’s monologue (chps 29-31). Of course, the entire book of Job is interesting, and is even more interesting to teach to this group of students who genuinely don’t know how it ends. The tension that this has caused for them is very, very real. In a way it’s a unique case because it allows them to identify with Job in a way that most Christians never even come close to. But, I digress. My point here is to discuss Job 31.31-32.
Here are the relevant verses in a few versions:
NIV: 31 if the men of my household have never said,
‘Who has not had his fill of Job’s meat?’-
32 but no stranger had to spend the night in the street,
for my door was always open to the traveler-
NKJV: 31 If the men of my tent have not said,
‘Who is there that has not been satisfied with his meat?’
32 (But no sojourner had to lodge in the street,
For I have opened my doors to the traveler[a]);
ESV: 31 if the men of my tent have not said,
‘Who is there that has not been filled with his meat?’
32(the sojourner has not lodged in the street;
I have opened my doors to the traveler),
NLT: 31 “My servants have never said,
‘He let others go hungry.’
32 I have never turned away a stranger
but have opened my doors to everyone.
31 אם־לא אמרו מתי אהלי מי־יתן מבשרו לא נשבע׃
Each week I create a mini-commentary for the students, with my thoughts on Job coupled with copious footnotes on a variety of issues and from a variety of sources (though I will be the first to admit that the breadth of sources could expand). After everyone has finished processing the fact that, yes, I use footnotes in handouts to high schoolers, we can move on. I was reading the Anchor Bible on Job, by Martin Pope (I’d link to it on Amazon, but of course it’s out of print), and he argues quite vociferously for an interpretation that sees Job 31.31 as speaking of homosexual acts. He appeals to the Aqhat myth, noting that it includes a bit about having the flesh sated, and that most view it in that context as referring to a sexual act. He also uses other Biblical evidences to bolster his point, most notably the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative from Genesis 19. The more common interpretation, which Pope says does violence to the text(!), but which Hartley (The Book of Job, NICOT) and Alden (Job, NAC) both follow is to see Job 31 as having to do with hospitality. With this in mind they argue that Job is making the case that you would be hard pressed to find someone who has not enjoyed the hospitality of his table. There is yet another option, presented by Balentine (Job, Smyth & Helwys). This option, which Balentine credits to Habel, sees similar language used to describe Job’s friends in 19.22. Following on this, the idea is that “v. 31 should be coupled with v. 32, in which case Job may be denying that he ever gave any members of his household reason to treat him with the same contempt,” (Balentine, Job, 491).
I have yet to survey any journals to which I have access, so there may well be other options out there. At present, the section on this in the handout I plan to give to the students on Sunday reads thus:
Who is there that has not been filled with his meat? – There are a variety of proposed interpretation for this verse. The most common is that Job is making the point that you would be hard pressed to find someone who had not enjoyed the hospitality of his table.1 Another possible interpretation reads the verse more literally than the ESV, and so argues that Job is saying he has never let the men of his tents (his servant and family) commit homosexual acts with travelers (cf. The story of the divine messengers at Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis 19.1-11).2 There is another option that sees this line as playing off of Job 19.22 where Job describes his friends as a “pack of wild animals longing to be ‘sated with his flesh.'”3 This opinion further argues that vv. 31-32 should be seen as Job making the case that the members of his own household ever had reason to be so displeased with him.4
1Hartley, The Book of Job, 420.
2Pope, Job, 207-208.
3Balentine, Job, 491.
So, I would be very interested in any thoughts you all may have. Is one interpretation more likely than any of the others? Are you more convinced by one of them, and if so, why? I have been inclined in the past, when faced with a passage or couplet in Job that is difficult to pin down, to give the students all of the options, and then let them know which one I favor. In this case, I haven’t read enough to favor one over the others yet.