Sin and salvation in the book of Job

Concepts of sin and salvation exist throughout the Bible. One place, however, that people generally do not look occurs in the book of Job.

Gordon E. Christo, PhD, is secretary of the Southern Asia Division of Seventh-day Adventists, Hosur, Tamil Nadu, India.

Concepts of sin and salvation exist, of course, throughout the Bible. One place, however, that people generally do not look for them occurs in the book of Job. Yet, as this article will show, the themes are found there as well.

Job and the doctrine of salvation

The opening chapter of the book tells us that Job’s seven sons held festive gatherings to which they invited their sisters. At the conclusion of these festivities, Job offered sacrifices on their behalf, in case they had sinned in their hearts. These sacrifices serve as a foundation to the doctrine of salvation in the book. We can draw several conclusions from this custom:

1. Job understood that sin, even in the heart, is offensive to God.

2. He knew that sin can be atoned for.

3. He had faith in a vicarious ransom for sins.

4. He believed in the role of a mediator, who officiated at the sacrifice.

Apparently, Job understood that his sacrifices and the system of which they were a part were only symbols of the reality that would take place in heaven. We will see allusions to the antitypes later in Job.

Job’s sins

To form the opinion that Job had never sinned is easy. He himself proclaims his innocence by calling on God to weigh him on honest scales because he knew that he would come out blameless (31:6). It takes a special sort of person to throw out such a challenge to God (most people would not dare to do so). But, at the outset, the author took pains to inform us that Job was “blameless and upright” (1:1, NKJV).1

Whatever “blameless and upright” meant, Job never claimed to be without sin. On the contrary, he beseeched God to pardon his offenses and forgive his sins (7:21). He recalled with chagrin the sins of his youth (13:26). Job realized he had sinned, but he expressed confidence that God would take care of the sins he had committed (14:16).

Ransom for sins

We have already noted that Job offered sacrifices for his children, in case they had sinned in their hearts. These are described as “burnt offerings” (1:5, NKJV) and were animals because, in the epilogue, God instructed the three friends to take rams and bulls to be sacrificed as a burnt offering for their sin of not speaking right about God (42:7, 8).

Job uses the Hebrew word pada (ransom) to suggest that he could have asked his friends to pay something on his behalf (6:22, 23), but he obviously did not have in mind a bribe that would rescue him. No human existed to whom such a payment could be made in exchange for his release. Job may have had in mind a sacrifice on his behalf, which would have had to come from his friends’ wealth since Job’s cattle were all destroyed.

A parallel word for pada is ga’al (redeem). Both terms occur in Hosea 13:14, Jeremiah 31:11, and Leviticus 27:27 as synonyms. The Septuagint (LXX) uses the Greek word lutroo 88 times, 45 times to translate ga’al, and 43 times to translate pada. Both roots have to do with redemption by payment of a ransom.2 Job uses the related word goel, in 19:25, to refer to his Redeemer. The goel means not only “to pay a ransom” but sometimes “to avenge” by shedding blood.3 The Hebrews clearly understood that the blood of bulls and goats could not permanently take away sins (Heb. 10:4). They also understood that mortal human beings could not redeem the life of another human or give God a ransom for him or her (Ps. 49:7). Thus, when Elihu envisioned a ransom for Job, he spoke of an angel-mediator who could save human beings by declaring, “ ‘ “I have found a ransom for him” ’ ” (Job 33:23, NIV).

The story of Job includes animal sacrifices, but it appears that the characters understood the limitations of these offerings and the fact that they do not save from death. Only the Divine could provide that type of ransom.

Job’s Mediator

In the sacrifices of the prologue, we observed Job as a type of mediator, functioning as a priest for his children by offering sacrifices on their behalf. This practice of mediating with God on behalf of another had God’s approval. In the epilogue, it was God Himself who sent the three friends with their sacrificial animals to Job, along with the assurance that Job would pray for their forgiveness and that God would hear his prayer (42:8, 9). In other words, Job would mediate for them, and God would accept his mediation. Thus, when Job asked for a Mediator for himself in heaven, he had a pretty good idea of what he was talking about.

In Job 9:33, 34, Job asked for a mokiah—an Arbitrator—“ ‘to remove God’s rod from’ ” him (NIV). Job’s reasons for this request make his intentions clearer. Once God’s rod was removed, Job would no longer be frightened by His terror, and he would be able to speak without fear. The Arbitrator, by His very presence, brought confidence. The rod, a symbol of punishment, would no longer threaten. This removal of the threat of punishment could be accomplished only by removing guilt, and that is possible only through forgiveness. It appears that Job had confidence that the Arbitrator would win a pardon for him.

Job did not refer to the Mediator again as an Arbitrator, but obviously, he envisioned the same Person when he talked about his “ ‘witness . . . advocate . . . intercessor’ ” (16:19, 20, NIV; emphasis added) because this important Person was required to arbitrate (from the same root as arbitrator in 9:33) with God on his behalf. The need was not only for one who could arbitrate but who could witness and advocate—who not only could testify to Job’s innocence but was also willing to plead in his behalf.4

Finally, Job referred to this Mediator as his goel (19:25). The primary function of this Kinsman-Redeemer was to redeem from danger or difficulty. A price was often paid for this redemption. Job envisioned that his Redeemer would function on his behalf even after his body was destroyed.

Job’s Redeemer has several characteristics that qualify Him as a goel even after Job’s death: (1) He lives, (2) He lives to the end, (3) He is in heaven, and (4) He will descend to this earth at the end (19:25). He is thus especially able to witness and advocate in heaven after Job’s death.

The heavenly Judge

Job himself had once functioned as a local judge, for he had sat at the city gate and dispensed justice. He saved the poor and needy and punished the oppressors (29:12–17, 21–25). Job, the just judge (29:14), finally had to ask for justice in his own case. As plaintiff, he asserted that if God placed him on “ ‘honest scales,’ ” he would be vindicated (31:6, NIV). When God tested him, he would come out as gold (23:10).

Job recognized God as the ultimate Judge of the earth (34:13). Though he spoke all through the book about justice perverted, when he contemplated his Redeemer, he spoke confidently of justice. Job would be vindicated, and his tormentors punished (19:25–29).

Removal of sins

Job asked God, “ ‘Why do you not pardon my offenses and forgive my sins?’ ” (7:21, NIV). This is not a simple acknowledgment of guilt and request for forgiveness. We may assume that just as Job regularly sacrificed for the inadvertent sins of his children, he would have done the same for himself. Even more surely, we may consider him as having confessed and sacrificed for all his known sins. More likely here, he supposed that God was still holding him accountable for sins he had already confessed.

Job once expressed confidence that his offenses would be “ ‘sealed up in a bag’ ” and that God would “ ‘cover over’ ” his sins (14:17, NIV). Job used the word chatam “to seal” and tapal “to cover.” Moses used the same word chatam to refer to the sins of Israel that would be “ ‘sealed in’ ” vaults until the day of judgment (Deut. 32:34–36).

Job had earlier used the word tapal to refer to his friends smearing him with lies (Job 13:4). Now he asked God to smear over his sins. This does not refer to the permanent removal of sins but was only a temporary, cosmetic measure until the day of final judgment.

Conclusion

While it is difficult to determine in detail Job’s understanding of the atonement and the sequence of events as envisioned by him, he did express the idea of a final end-time judgment. He wished his words were recorded, written (19:23), to survive until the end (v. 24) when his Redeemer would stand upon the earth (v. 25). He envisioned his resurrection, in order that he might benefit from that judgment (vv. 26, 27). He expected to be vindicated and his detractors to be punished (vv. 28, 29).

“The vocabulary here is echoed by the passage in Daniel 12:1-3—the classic eschatological judgment passage. Daniel declared that when Michael stood up, a book with writing would be examined, as a result of which some would be resurrected to everlasting life but some everlasting contempt. Job had confidence in this same final judgment that would bring vindication to the righteous.”5

The book of Job is set in a cosmic controversy between God and Satan.6 The concept of salvation in the book includes (1) a system of animal sacrifices that provided only temporary relief from sin; (2) a ransom that ultimately needed to be paid by a divine Redeemer; (3) a judgment in which deeds would be examined, condemning the wicked and vindicating the righteous; (4) God the Judge; and (5) a heavenly Mediator who would speak on behalf of the righteous on the basis of a ransom paid. Job envisioned this would take place at the end of time.

In short, we see in Job the plan of salvation, including a final judgment at the end of time.

1. God’s statement about Job’s character forms the center
of a chiasm in chapter 1. The heavenly scene is set in a
framework of Job’s character, children, wealth, and the
feasts. God’s statement of Job’s character is the middle of
three speeches to Satan in the heavenly scene.

2. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce Waltke, eds.,
Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. 2 (Chicago:
Moody, 1980), s.v. “pada.”

3. See Numbers 35:12ff. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer,
and Bruce Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old
Testament, vol. 1 (Chicago: Moody, 1980), s.v. “ga’al.”

4. The Hebrew word that Job uses for “intercessor” is the same
that Elihu uses in 33:23 to refer to the angel-mediator.

5. For a fuller treatment of this topic, see Gordon Christo,
“The Investigative Judgment in Job 19:21-29” (PhD diss.,
Andrews University, 1992).

6. See Edwin Thiele and Margaret Thiele, Job and the Devil
(Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1988).


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Gordon E. Christo, PhD, is secretary of the Southern Asia Division of Seventh-day Adventists, Hosur, Tamil Nadu, India.

October 2010

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