Did I fear a great multitude - Was I ever prevented by the voice of the many from decreeing and executing what was right? When many families or tribes espoused a particular cause, which I found, on examination, to be wrong, did they put me in fear, so as to prevent me from doing justice to the weak and friendless? Or, in any of these cases, was I ever, through fear, self-seeking, or favor, prevented from declaring my mind, or constrained to keep my house, lest I should be obliged to give judgment against my conscience? Mr. Good thinks it an imprecation upon himself, if he had done any of the evils which he mentions in the preceding verse. He translates thus: -
"Then let me be confounded before the assembled multitude,
And let the reproach of its families quash me!
Yea, let me be struck dumb! let me never appear abroad!"
I am satisfied that Job 31:38-40, should come in either here, or immediately after Job 31:25; and that Job's words should end with Job 31:37, which, if the others were inserted in their proper places, would be Job 31:40. See the reasons at the end of the chapter, Job 31:40; (note).
Did I fear a great multitude - Our translators have rendered this as if Job meant to say that he had not been deterred from doing what he supposed was right by the fear of others; as if he had been independent, and had done what he knew to be right, undeterred by the fear of popular fury, or the loss of the favor of the great. This version is adopted also by the Vulgate, by Herder, and substantially by Coverdale and Luther. Another interpretation has, however, been proposed, and is adopted by Schultens, Noyes, Good, Umbreit, Dathe, and Scott, which is, that this is to be regarded as an imprecations, or that this is the punishment which he invoked and expected if he had been guilty of the crime which is specified in the previous verses. The meaning then would be “Then let me be confounded before the great multitude! Let the contempt of families cover me with shame! Let me keep silence, and let me never appear abroad!” The Hebrew will admit of either construction, and either of them will accord well with the connection. The latter, however, regarding it as an imprecation, seems to me to be preferable, for two reasons:
(1) It will accord more forcibly with what he had said in the previous verse. The sense then would be, as expressed by Patrick, “If I have studied to appear better than I am, and have not made a free confession, but, like our first parent, have concealed or excused my faults, and, out of self-love, have hidden mine iniquity, because I dread what the people will say of me, or am terrified by the contempt into which the knowledge of my guilt will bring me with the neighboring families, then am I content my mouth should be stopped, and that I never stir out of my door any more.”
(2) This interpretation seems to be required, in order to make a proper close of his remarks. The general course in this chapter has been to specify an offence, and then to utter an imprecation if he had been guilty of it. In the previous verses he had specified crimes of which he had declared himself innocent; but unless this verse be so regarded, there is no invocation of any corresponding punishment if he had been guilty. It seems probable, therefore, that this verse is so to be regarded. According to this, the phrase “Did I fear a great multitude” means, “Then let me be terrified by a multitude - by the opinions of the world, and let this be the punishment of my sin. Since by the fear of others I was led to hide my sin in my bosom, let it be my lot to lose all popular favor, and feel that I am the object of public scorn and contempt!”
Or did the contempt of families terrify me - Let the contempt of families crush me; let me be despised and abhorred by them. If I was led to hide sins in my bosom because I feared them, then let me be doomed to the total loss of their favor, and become wholly the object of their scorn.
That I kept silence - Or let me keep silence as a punishment. That is, let me not be admitted as a counsellor, or allowed to express my sentiments in the public assemblies.
And went not out at the door - That is, “Let me not go out at the door. Let me be confined to my dwelling, and never be allowed to appear in public, to mingle in society, to take part in public affairs - because by the fear of the world I attempted to hide my faults in my bosom. Such a punishment would be appropriate to such an offence. The retribution would be no more than a suitable recompense for such an act of guilt - and I would not shrink from it.”