Job 31:10 suggests a curse on his wife, if he is an adulterer.

The NIV reads:

then may my wife grind another man’s grain, and may other men sleep with her.

The ESV reads:

then let my wife grind for another, and let others bow down on her.

With regards to the second clause, which - if either - is more reflective of how the first readers would have heard it? Is "יִכְרְע֥וּן" like sleep where it is an immediate and common understanding - and I forgot it was a euphemism at all - or more of a unique description by the poet?

1 Answer 1


Context clears the matter up. The need is to go back to the start of chapter 26 where Job begins to respond to Bildad the Shuhite, for there follows six whole chapters of Job's speech, which results in silencing his three so-called 'comforters'.

Using the KJV, the first verses of chapters 27 and 29 show us that Job is speaking in parables. That is the linguistic genre of the day. He does not speak as we speak today. Those two verses are exactly the same:

"Moreover Job continued his parable, and said,..."

He starts by magnifying the glory and the power of God; of declaring that the hypocrite is without hope before God. Then he recalls his own former prosperity and honour, longing to be restored. By chapter 30 he moves on to how his honour has now been turned into extreme contempt. Then comes chapter 31, with the one verse (10) which you ask about - whether Job is speaking euphemistically about a curse on his wife should Job be guilty of coveting his neighbour's wife, or falling for the allures of another woman. This is clearly referring to sexual adultery. Job is saying that, if he is guilty of sexually wrong thoughts, desires, and actions, then may his wife either become another man's servant (working to produce flour) or another man's wife (to provide sexual gratification for him.)

That would be the least worse scenario of Job's parable. The worse case would be if - because of any immorality own Job's part - his wife became a slave and was raped, and not just by one man. Job would view either case as judgment on himself, and exposure of his own immorality.

Yet Job was so confident that he had not even thought immoral sexual thoughts, let alone carried any out, that such a disaster on his wife would never occur. This is shown by the whole chapter, where Job lists one sinful deed after another: "If I...." followed by a judgmental curse resulting on himself.

The range of sins includes unfairness to his own servants, keeping food from the poor, or clothing, attacking the fatherless instead of defending them, coveting gold and hoping (trusting) in material riches, secretly adoring the sun and the moon, rejoicing in the downfall of his enemies, trying to cover over his sin as did Adam. And the continual reason Job declares his abhorrence of, and avoidance of such sins is that:

"Doth not [God] see my ways, and count all my steps? ...What then shall I do when God riseth up? and when he visiteth, what shall I answer him? ...For destruction from God was a terror to me, and by reason of his highness I could not endure... for I should have denied God that is above." (Job 31: 4, 14, 23)

Further, Job calls down judgment on his own self should he be found guilty of such crimes:

"Then let me sow, and let another eat; yea, let my offspring be rooted out. ...then let mine arm fall from my shoulder blade, and mine arm be broken from the bone... Let thistles grow instead of wheat, and cockle instead of barley." (Ibid. vss. 8, 22, 40)

So, yes, Job is so sure of his innocence regarding lust and adultery that he speaks of his wife being in servitude to another man and being an object of sexual gratification to another man (or men), should he actually be guilty. He is supremely confident that he is not guilty, so that such a horror would never happen to his wife.

This means that Job is not calling down a curse on his wife, but that all his appeals in that chapter are that he is innocent of myriad sins, that God is his witness and sees all that he does and knows all that he thinks, and (therefore) such awful judgments on him and his household and his wife will never happen.

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